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jetBlue Captain Suffered Toxic Encephalopathy from Contaminated Cabin Air, Court Concludes

jetBlue Captain Suffered Toxic Encephalopathy from Contaminated Cabin Air, Court Concludes

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An Oregon court has concluded that there is a causal link between a long-serving jetBlue pilot and Captain suffering a form of brain dysfunction, and neural cognitive disorder and him being exposed to toxic chemical fumes onboard an Airbus A320 aircraft. Captain Andrew Myers, 54, had worked for JetBlue for 15-years and was earning in excess of $248,000 a year before the January 2017 incident which he believes left him with chronic total-body tremors and breathing problems.

Captain Myers was scheduled to fly a plane that a day before had apparently suffered a fume event after flight attendants and customers complained of smelling a strong foul odour during the descent for landing. Along with his co-pilot, Captain Myers attempted to figure out what had caused the smell by performing three engine run tests before departure.

Photo Credit: jetBlue

In the first engine run, Captain Myers could smell the foul odour in the cabin but the First Officer who was still in the flight deck couldn’t. But during the second engine run, both of them smelled “a very apparent, choking, burning odour like dirty socks or an oily smell”. They both immediately developed headaches and were coughing – luckily, with the plane still at the gate and no passengers yet onboard, they were able to quickly get off the aircraft to grab some fresh air.

Despite collapsing on the jetbridge, Captain Myers then decided to get back on board the plane to complete the third engine run test. Again, the odour returned and on this occasion, the right side of his body shook with tremors.

Throughout the day, his symptoms worsened. After telling jetBlue he wouldn’t be fit to operate the flight, the airline flew him to San Francisco where he became so confused he forgot what hotel he was staying in. The following day he felt a lot better and took on a flight only for a severe headache to develop – it would be the last flight Captain Myers operated.

An engineering report dated over a month later found that the auxiliary power unit was cracked and leaking oil – a pathway for toxic fumes from hot oil to enter the aircraft ventilation system.

Around the same time, Captain Myers was “continuing to experience tremors severe enough that he could not hold a glass of water and developed stuttering that made it hard for him to be intelligible”. He says he needed a cane to stop him from falling and suffered “shortness of breath, persistent low-grade headache, upper extremity tremors, confusion, and aphasia”.

By December 2017, an FAA medical examiner stripped Captain Myers of his fitness to fly, rendering him grounded.

While jetBlue at first conceded that Captain Myers may have inhaled vaporised chemicals onboard one of its planes, the airline denied that his longterm health problems could be connected with the incident. jetBlue further argued that breathing in fumes onboard a plane hasn’t been proven to cause chronic neurological issues – so his condition didn’t actually exist.

After many months of medical examinations and expert witness testimony, the Workers Compensation Board of the State of Oregon has now concluded that Captain Myers was injured by the fumes he inhaled on that day in 2017 and that there is a causal link between the fumes and his longterm health problems.

jetBlue faced criticism last year over “toxic fume events” on its fleet of Airbus A320 series aircraft. Congress expressed “deep concern” over a significant number of severe fume events onboard JetBlue’s fleet last year which they believed posed a significant threat to the safety of crew members and passengers.

Congress also called out jetBlue out for what it described as attempting to skirt FAA reporting standards and compensation laws by reclassifying fume events as “odour events”.

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